PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — In a statement released March 15, West Linn City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos said there would be no discipline for the acting lieutenant who conducted the flawed internal investigation of West Linn Police Sgt. Tony Reeves’ targeting of Portland Black man Michael Fesser.
Since December, when the city of West Linn released a report by the OIR Group which decried the narrow scope of the internal investigation led by then-acting Lieutenant Oddis Rollins, members of the community, namely the West Linn Community for Police Reform, have called for Rollins (now a captain) to be disciplined.
The group circulated an online petition, which garnered nearly 250 signatures, calling on Gabrielatos to hold Rollins accountable.
“I have carefully considered the concerns from the West Linn community that Captain Rollins should be held accountable for his role in the Michael Fesser matter,” Gabrielatos’ March 15 statement read. “I have also reviewed information regarding Captain Rollins that I obtained after the initial OIR Group report was issued last December. I believe that this information mitigates in favor of Captain Rollins in evaluating his actions.”
Specifically, Gabrielatos said that Rollins’ investigation was “set up to fail.”
Gabrielatos sought answers from both Rollins and the OIR Group based on the concerns laid out in the initial report.
Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote, who investigated WLPD’s handling of the Fesser case last year, found Reeves’ conduct so “deeply disturbing” that he recommended that the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training revoke his certification and stated the DA’s office would no longer call him as a witness during prosecution or investigation. The DA’s office also reexamined hundreds of cases where Reeves had played a role. Yet Rollins’ internal investigation of Reeves amounted to a letter of reprimand, the lowest form of discipline available.
The OIR report lamented WLPD’s internal investigation of Reeves for several reasons, namely that it wasn’t referred to an outside agency, that it was so narrow in scope it only incorporated one 14-minute interview (which was of Reeves, the subject under investigation) and that it failed to take into account crucial records related to Fesser’s lawsuits against his boss Eric Benson and the city.
“The decision by the Police Department to retain the internal investigation had serious consequences for accountability and deleteriously delayed the city’s actual knowledge about the gravamen and credibility of the allegations,” the OIR report stated.
When Gabrielatos asked the OIR investigators if Rollins had anything to do with this decision, they responded by stating they found no evidence of this.
“The best evidence collected by OIR Group is that the initial decision to keep the investigation of the tort claim notice allegations internal was initially made by Chief Kruger,” their response read. “After Kruger recused himself, the decision to keep the investigation within the Police Department was maintained by Captain (Neil) Hennelly.”
Former West Linn Police Chief Terry Kruger, who came to WLPD the day Fesser filed his tort claim against the city, was fired for overseeing the failed internal investigation shortly after the city received the OIR report. Hennelly retired in 2018.
In response to Gabrielatos’ questions, the OIR investigators also noted there was no evidence to suggest Rollins had any say in the scope of the internal investigation.
“Assigning an Acting Lieutenant to investigate wide-ranging allegations of misconduct against a peer and his former Chief, without providing clear direction on its scope, was setting the investigator up to fail,” OIR’s response stated. “And when Captain Hennelly asked advisors about how to deal with former Chief Timeus, he was not sufficiently advised on the critical importance of attempting to obtain an interview with the former Chief, advice that should have been forthcoming.”
The OIR Group also noted that Hennelly failed to closely supervise Rollins in his investigation, noting that such guidance would have been critical to his inquiry.
The OIR report revealed that Rollins decided not to re-interview Reeves after learning of text messages with homophobic and racist language exchanged between Reeves and Benson leading up to and after Fesser’s arrest.
Gabrielatos asked the group if Rollins would have learned anything relevant if he had reinterviewed Reeves after obtaining the texts.
“Acting Lieutenant Rollins would have learned a great deal of relevant information by reinterviewing Reeves after reviewing the text messages, even considering the limited scope of the investigation. The content of the text messages was by no means ‘self-evident’ … it would have been imperative to ask Reeves about each of them; particularly since his limited initial interview only touched on some of them referenced in the tort claim notice,” OIR responded. “For instance, the Acting Lieutenant asked questions about whether the Reeves/Benson communications contained racial, sexual, or homophobic slurs, but not whether they revealed improper motivations for Benson’s allegations.”
Because the OIR report pointed out Rollins’ failure to interview Fesser himself, or any other officers or witnesses besides Reeves, Gabrielatos asked what critical information could have been learned by interviewing them.
“The question presumes that the scope of the investigation was appropriate. It was not,” OIR responded. “The whole point of the OIR Group report is just that; the scope of what to investigate and who to talk to was inappropriately narrow. Since the narrow scope did extend to witnesses, it likely did influence who Rollins interviewed.”
Based on his investigation, Rollins found Reeves had not violated WLPD’s policy on discrimination.
Gabrielatos asked OIR if that finding was clearly erroneous based on the text messages and other evidence he reviewed.
“Reeves should have been interviewed about each text message that Benson sent him, how he interpreted it, and why he allowed the racist, homophobic, and inappropriate banter to continue,” OIR responded. “The text messages should have been considered in that context to determine whether the above referenced discrimination policy was violated by Reeves.”
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OIR further noted that Hennelly, not Rollins, was in charge of ratifying the investigation findings and imposing discipline.
Abby Farber, a West Linn resident who has supported further accountability for those involved in Fesser’s arrest and the internal investigation, including Rollins, said she was disappointed in the city manager’s decision.
“To do an incomplete investigation, I think, is dereliction of duty and not doing one’s job appropriately,” Farber said.
Farber believes Rollins’ faulty investigation merited discipline, or even dismissal.
In his statement to the community, Gabrielatos said he determined based on the most recent responses from the OIR Group that Rollins was not at fault for the narrow investigation.
“Under those circumstances, I do not believe that disciplinary action of Captain Rollins is appropriate. I understand that some members of the public will be disappointed or continue to question this determination, but it is my responsibility to make the decision that I believe is correct, even if it is subjected to criticism,” he wrote.
Gabrielatos said the best path forward was through training and high standards of accountability for the department.
“Acting Chief (Peter) Mahuna and I are committed to immediately beginning the process of improving our complaint procedures within the Police Department so that citizen complaints are promptly and effectively addressed, and we are in the process of making arrangements to provide intensive training to supervisory staff for conducting thorough and trustworthy investigations of allegations against police officers,” he wrote. “We will keep the citizens of West Linn apprised of our plan and our progress toward making that a reality.”